24 Maoists dead: What this means for the government, police and red ultras

24 Maoists dead: What this means for the government, police and red ultras

The forces ventured into a ‘no-go’ area in a revenge act for 2008

By T S Sudhir

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Without a doubt, Monday morning’s strike against the Maoists deep inside the Andhra-Odisha border (AOB) zone is a huge victory for the security forces. Twenty-four Maoists getting eliminated in one go is a significant setback to the outlaws. It also means that the Greyhounds, the elite commando force of the Andhra Pradesh police that is trained in guerilla warfare, has decided to take the anti-Maoist operations to the next level. One commando was killed in the operation that took place at the crack of dawn. 

The facts reveal their own story. The theatre of action was Panasaputtu block near Balimela reservoir in Chitrakonda block in Malkangiri district of Odisha. Though for academic reasons, the encounter is now spoken of as having been carried out jointly by Andhra and Odisha police, the execution of the strike bears the Greyhounds stamp. It is a surgical strike inside a Maoist den, which will deeply affect the morale of the Reds. 

From what we know so far, there was specific intel about a plenary being held in the patch. From the three AK-47s recovered from the encounter site, it is clear that three commanders have been killed. Four self-loading rifles (SLRs) reveal that four more senior Maoists have been eliminated. In pure statistical terms, this is a big hit and once the identity of all the leaders is known, the police will be able to quantify the loss the Maoists have suffered, better.

One of those identified is Ganesh alias Uday alias Ravi. He headed the Maoists in the AOB region and was interestingly, one among the three naxals who had represented the CPI (Maoists) during the peace talks that failed with the then Andhra Pradesh government in 2004. Ganesh’s colleague during the peace talks was Ramakrishna, one of the senior-most Maoists in the ranks today. Reports suggest that Munna, Ramakrishna’s son is among those killed. Both are big hits for the security forces. 

But one cannot miss the irony in the two deaths because just on October 21, the Supreme Court asked the Centre and the Chhattisgarh government to initiate peace talks with the Maoists. Clearly, the state – and the men in uniform in particular – is not in sync with what the judiciary has in mind. In fact, on Monday in Jagdalpur in Chhattisgarh, the effigies of four social activists who have consistently exposed the alleged high-handedness of the state police and Central Reserve Police Force were burnt by police personnel in front of a police station. This was a first of its kind of protest. 

For tactical reasons, the Andhra police, however, is not admitting that it had specific intel but only general information on the basis of which combing in Chitrakonda was undertaken. It is quite likely that this line is being taken to protect the police moles within the Maoist ranks. Because it is next to impossible that the forces would have ventured to such a remote stretch unless there was precise information about the presence of so many senior-ranking Maoists.

The Balimela patch is one of the most treacherous terrains on the Andhra-Odisha border. In June 2008, in a Maoist ambush, 36 jawans, many of them Greyhounds commandos were killed in the Sileru river. Many senior officers at that time attributed the hit to mindless risk-taking by the security personnel without knowing the spider’s den they were trying to invade. Monday’s success is testimony to lessons learnt from 2008 and the fact that the forests and rivulets of Balimela have been conquered in the mind before setting foot into them.

The injured jawans have been brought to the hospital in Visakhapatnam. The bodies of the Maoists have been taken to Malkangiri in Odisha for post-mortem. Maoist sympathisers have questioned the rationale behind the security forces killing so many and instead not injuring and arresting the Maoists. The police retort is that in an exchange of fire, they fire both to defend and to kill and in a situation when 24 Maoists have been killed, the thumb rule is that at least twice or thrice that number would have managed to escape, injured or otherwise. 

What would this offensive mean for life in the tribal forest belt? For long, Maoists have found support, under duress or otherwise, from the villagers because they have opposed bauxite mining in these mineral-rich zones of Andhra and Odisha. Maoist presence with the gun has meant that company representatives have found it difficult to venture into these zones without fear of abduction or getting killed. With Monday’s strike, the state has sent out a message to private players that it has got the better of anyone who tries to oppose mining of bauxite.

In the last decade, Chhattisgarh, the AOB zone and Jharkhand have been the three hotspots of Maoist influence, with many of these areas demarcated as no-go zones for the administration. The cat-and-mouse game has meant life is under the shadow of the gun in these parts. With even basic amenities for the common man remaining a mirage, both the state and the Maoists fight to occupy the geographical stretch that fell off the map of India long ago.